BW&BK Interview: KATAKLYSM – A Crash Course In Determination

By Carl Begai

The footage is grainy and distorted, yanked from a decomposing VHS cassette tape, accompanied by audio better suited for a showcase on vacuum cleaners. The focus is on a long-haired punk kid by the name of Max Duhamel sitting behind a drum kit, unleashing an ungodly barrage of blastbeats and fills that should be impossible for someone his age. It’s his first gig as a member of Montreal-based Kataklysm, and a fine example of the band’s “no limits” approach to their career.

Some 20 years later, Duhamel is still raising chaos behind the kit – albeit at a much higher level – celebrating the band’s landmark achievement of lasting this long alongside frontman Maurizio Iacono, guitarist J-F Dagenais and bassist Stephane Barbe with the mother of all metal documentaries, Iron Will: 20 Years Determined.

Truth be told, Iron Will is loaded with so much detail it’s a safe bet that folks completely unfamiliar with Kataklysm would peg the band as playing 20,000 seaters a night and jet-setting at this point of their career. After all, working-class mid-tier artists simply do not release retrospectives this in-depth and extensive. Until now.

“It’s a very detailed and massive release, but I’ll be honest with you, we were worried because it’s so long,” says Iacono. “We were thinking that maybe it was too much, so we went back and forth with (record label) Nuclear Blast and realized that if we cut it, the DVD was going to be like everybody else. We didn’t want to run through it and say ‘The band made it!’ at the end and that was it. This documentary was done for the fans and for ourselves. It’s not made for gaining new fans. If that happens, cool, but that was never the intention.”

“We had to dust off a lot of things to get at that old footage. Especially the footage of our very first practice with me and my mullet (laughs), my cousin Fabio Agostino (guitars), and Ariel Martinez on drums in the basement. You can see the footage is old… ‘90 or ’91; that’s vintage, before Sylvain (Houde/vocals). We weren’t even Kataklysm at that point, we were TSD. My cousin had the footage and it was so old it wasn’t even on a VHS tape, it was on one of those little tapes you put in the VHS tape (laughs). At that time there were no cameras that took normal video tapes, they were about to come out. It was done on a handheld, a bunch of kids thinking they were gonna be rockstars.”

Iron Will was initially planned as a book penned by Iacono, who was driven to document the band’s career and his own rise from mullet-headed metal fan to a musician living his dream. Time constraints made the book increasingly unlikely, and the band opted to go the DVD route. Iacono heaps praise on director Tommy Jones for wading through countless hours of footage and bringing the documentary to life.

“I’ve got to give credit to the director Tommy Jones for that. It’s a long story on the DVD and we didn’t want people to fall asleep watching it, so we wanted to go back and forth and throw something special in there. Tommy came up with the idea of Max TV (behind-the-scenes snippets) because he came with us when we were on tour, and at some point Max started saying ‘You know what? I want to do my own show here because the camera’s on me all the time. Welcome to Max TV.’ That was it, and we decided to insert it into the footage. We wanted to make it very entertaining and very different for anything else out there.”

Looking back on the experiences that make up the blood and guts of Iron Will, Iacono pinpoints the one event that stands out in his mind above all else without missing a beat.

“The moment where me and J-F sat down and I was almost begging him to give me a chance. If it wasn’t for that moment – and we have to give Tim Horton’s on Montreal’s east side props for that (laughs) – when we were talking over coffee and I told J-F that if he gave me a chance I’d bring Kataklysm somewhere. I could see it in his eyes that he was thinking ‘I don’t know why I’m going to say yes again, but okay.’ He knew that was the time and we rebuilt the band completely from there. When we saw that on the DVD we both looked at each other and nodded because we both remember the moment so vividly. If J-F would have said no and decided not to make music anymore, I wouldn’t have been able to continue.”

“It’s crazy to see our history unfold like that,” Iacono says of watching the DVD for the first time. “We watched it together just the four of us – me, Max, Steph and J-F – no girlfriends, no anybody, just us watching our history. We got some beer, ordered some pizza, and it was a really emotional thing seeing our story like that. We know what we did, but there are people in the industry and the media that don’t recognize Kataklysm as a ‘serious’ band. I think after watching this DVD some respect has to be given to us at least for the effort we’ve put into our career. We had the door slammed in our face and we said ‘No, we’re going through it anyway.’”

Go to this location for the complete interview.

Promo photos by Audrey Dujardin.